Wednesday, May 30, 2012

When complaints from the public mean you must be doing something good

Those who work in the media have to know how to deal with complaints from the public. If you're a journalist, for instance, it feels good to have a reader (or viewer) writing in and commenting on what you have published (or aired), even if that comment is critical. You feel good because it means someone has read what you have written or watched your news show and taken it seriously enough to give you feedback. You don't have to get into a tizzy just because your work made someone angry. (You need to develop a thick skin early on, says CNN-IBN's Suhasini Haidar.) If the criticism is warranted, and there is an error in what you have reported, a correction may be in order. Otherwise, just read the e-mail and move on.

Would the same principle apply if you were a syndicated cartoonist? If you were Stephan Pastis, the creator of the laugh-out-loud Pearls Before Swine comic strip?

Judge for yourself from these excerpts taken from his introduction to a collection of Pearls strips, "The Sopratos":

Being a syndicated cartoonist means getting a lot of e-mail.

But the best of the best, the crème de la crème, are the complaints.

First, there are the just-plain-hate-filled folk, who load their e-mail with lots of exclamation points and keep hitting the “CAPS LOCK” button

“You think you’re funny, but you’re NOT!! You SUCK!!! Your comic has never made me laugh! Not even close! And you can’t draw worth SH*T!”

When I’m bored, I will sometimes send those people the following:

“Dear Pearls Fan, 

“Thank you for your kind words. Your support of Pearls is appreciated. Unfortunately, due to the overwhelming popularity of the strip, Mr. Pastis cannot respond to each and every one of his fans personally, but he’s glad to hear you enjoy the strip.”

More than not, that will trigger a follow-up e-mail. Those look like this:

“&$%@ you, you #&$@#*. I am NOT a fan of your @*&@ing comic. And DON’T SEND ME YOUR %#*#ing FORM E-MAILS.”

This of course means I have to send him the same response a second time.

Then there are the more specific folk. These people write when a particular strip or series of strips has angered them. Ohhh, there’ve been a few of these.

Off the top of my head, and in no particular order:

  • Greek people (upset at being depicted as dirty restaurant owners)
  • Parents of kids with ADD (angry at my saying they shouldn’t be drugged)
  • Palestinians (angry at the Jerusalem bus strip)
  • Bisexuals (furious that I called a lonely man who would date people of either sex a “desperasexual”)
  • Family Circus fans (angry over any number of things I’ve done — depicting the kids as grown-up alcoholics, having Dolly say, “I love my dead grandpa,” or having the kids shelter Osama Bin Laden for a week)
  • Family members of people suffering with Lou Gehrig’s disease (angry at Pig for saying how coincidental it was that a guy named Lou Gehrig died from something called “Lou Gehrig’s disease”.)
  • George W. Bush supporters (mad that I had Rat writing him a letter saying that if he was going to bomb all 192 countries, he’d better pick up the pace)
  • Homosexuals (mad that Rat called Pig a “fairy”)
  • Baby Blues fans (deeply offended that I would show their favourite characters being babysat by Rat, above, who sat alone at their kitchen table doing tequila shots)
  • Turkish people (apoplectic over my naming a llama “Ataturk”, a former leader of Turkey. This one even triggered a letter from the Turkish ambassador to the United States.)
  • Nuns (angry that I referred to a nun getting an enema)
  • Abraham Lincoln supporters (offended that I showed Lincoln saying, “I need to see another play like I need a hole in the head.”)
Add to these the more general never-ending complaints about having the characters swear, drink, smoke, and shoot guns, and it’s easy to see:


Also read: "You won't believe how this popular comic strip artist gets his ideas".

Want to be a journalist? Rejection is good for the soul (and other advice from a media veteran)

Two minutes after I published a post today on Neil Gaiman's inspirational commencement address at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, I was alerted by Commitscion Neelima Bhamidipati (Class of 2012), via Twitter, to another uplifting commencement speech. Veteran CNN-IBN anchor Suhasini Haidar, who spoke to graduating students of WMA (World Media Academy) earlier this month, has posted her speech on her blog.

Haidar told the students she was rejected seven times when she applied for a job as a television journalist. Then, while explaining how rejection can be a boost for aspiring journalists, she listed her five wishes for young people seeking a career in journalism:

I am going to hope for you that each of you gets rejected for a job in exactly the same way because if you don’t understand what your passion is, it helps to have an interviewer that does. Because in the profession you have chosen, there will be many reasons to quit, and only one reason to stay — and that is the passion to tell a story.

1. I wish for you a really mean boss, one who makes you cry. Let’s be honest. This is a tough business, one where you have to push and bully your way to a story, you need to develop a thick skin early on.

2. I wish for you many, many days spent in the heat. So much of our job requires you to stand on someone else’s footpath, waiting for the person who lives inside to come out or go in; it’s a great thing to get used to.

3. I wish for you many unwell colleagues. That does sound horrid, but honestly, it’s how I got most of my early breaks. You get sent on an assignment only because someone else is indisposed.

4. I wish for you assignments in places where telephones and computers don’t work, because the joy of heading out to a remote area, where you work on one story for three days without having to report back, no hour-on-hour deadline pressure is something you must do.

5. I wish for you interviews with many eccentric quirky people… because those are the ones who will give you the story.

Read Suhasini Haidar's commencement address in its entirety on her blog: "Dear journalism students, I wish you many job rejections".

UPDATE (June 16, 2014): Earlier this month, Suhasini Haidar delivered the convocation address at the 9.9 School of Communication, where she asserted that good journalism can change you. Read the address in its entirety here.

Wisdom and inspiration from Neil Gaiman

He is the multi-talented, multi-award-winning author of brilliant works such as The Sandman and The Graveyard Book. He is also a hero to many young people. And that is why the commencement speech Neil Gaiman gave earlier this month at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia is drawing raves on the Web.

I watched the speech on YouTube this morning after receiving the link from Commitscion Natasha Rego (Class of 2014). She wrote she found it to be "beautifully inspiring". I agree, and I think you will, too.


While there are many thoughtful and thought-provoking aspects to what Gaiman said, what I found striking was that he got his start as a journalist:

I wanted to write comics and novels and stories and films, so I became a journalist, because journalists are allowed to ask questions, and to simply go and find out how the world works, and besides, to do those things I needed to write and to write well, and I was being paid to learn how to write economically, crisply, sometimes under adverse conditions, and on time.

Gaiman also makes a lot of sense when he speaks about learning from failure:

The problems of failure are problems of discouragement, of hopelessness, of hunger. You want everything to happen and you want it now, and things go wrong. My first book a piece of journalism I had done for the money, and which had already bought me an electric typewriter  from the advance should have been a bestseller. It should have paid me a lot of money. If the publisher hadn't gone into involuntary liquidation between the first print run selling out and the second printing, and before any royalties could be paid, it would have done.

And I shrugged, and I still had my electric typewriter and enough money to pay the rent for a couple of months, and I decided that I would do my best in future not to write books just for the money. If you didn't get the money, then you didn't have anything. If I did work I was proud of, and I didn't get the money, at least I'd have the work.

Every now and again, I forget that rule, and whenever I do, the universe kicks me hard and reminds me.

To plug into Neil Gaiman's very original philosophy and to understand why what he said is such a hit, watch the full commencement address yourself here.

If you would rather read up on the six key points of Gaiman's address, go here.
  • Also read: Neil Gaiman talks to the New York Times about his favourite books, his reading habits, and other book-related matters: By the Book.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Yes, there is an upside to being an introvert

It's commonplace to think that introverts have it tough. They appear to feel awkward in company, they prefer to stay silent in classrooms and at work, and, so, they risk being thought of as not very smart, not team players, not leadership material,

All downsides, right? So what is the upside? Is there an upside?

Yes, there is, writes Bryan Walsh in Time magazine.

Walsh, a self-confessed introvert, begins his article with a description of his experience at a diplomatic party in Tokyo. "Small talk with stiff-backed strangers at a swanky cocktail party is by far my least favourite part of my job," he writes. "Send me to a famine or a flood and I'm comfortable. A few rounds of the room at a social event, however, leave me exhausted. So now and then I retreat into the solitude of the bathroom, watching the minutes tick by until I've recovered enough to go back out there."

We then learn that, by some estimates, 30 per cent of all people fall on the introvert end of the temperament spectrum. But what does the label actually mean?

...introverted does not have to mean shy, though there is overlap. Shyness is a form of anxiety characterised by inhibited behaviour. It also implies a fear of social judgment that can be crippling. Shy people actively seek to avoid social situations, even ones they might want to take part in, because they may be inhibited by fear. Introverts shun social situations because, Greta Garbo-style, they simply want to be alone.

So being introverted can be very different from being shy. I didn't know that.

Walsh also discusses why simply being an introvert can feel taxing...

...especially in America, land of the loud and home of the talkative. From classrooms built around group learning to open-plan offices that encourage endless meetings, it sometimes seems that the quality of your work has less value than the volume of your voice.

That last sentence is sure to find resonance in many workplaces in India.

But Walsh's piece is about the upside of being an introvert so he goes to meet Susan Cain, author of the new book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, who tells him that there's indeed a subtle bias against introverts, "and it's generating a waste of talent and energy and happiness". It may be time, Walsh writes, for America [read "all of us"] to learn the forgotten rewards of sitting down and shutting up.

What, then, are the advantages of being an introvert? There are plenty — and you can read about them here: "The upside of being an introvert (and why extroverts are overrated)".
  • Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Answer these 12 questions to find out: "Quiet Quiz".
  • Also read: A former CEO who uses his shyness to forge close relationships and build trust with employees now often stands in front of a roomful of people and tells them how they, too, can be leaders. His advice: "Introverts can be leaders too".
  • Photo illustration: Zachary Scott, courtesy Time

Never judge a book by its cover

I had seen Broken News in bookstores but the cover was a big put-off (it still is); I imagined it to be another of those insipid novels by a wannabe writer who just happens to be a journalist.

But after one of my students, Sonakshi Nandy (Class of 2014), mentioned it in her e-mail a couple of days ago, and after two other students, Ankita Sengupta and Sohini Guharoy (both Class of 2013), talked about the book and about their interactions with the author during their recent internship at CNN-IBN, I went to the Just Books library and borrowed Broken News.

I began reading it the same night and I was thrilled to learn that I was wrong about the book — and the author. What do they say about not judging a book by its cover?

Amrita Tripathi, a senior journalist and anchor with CNN-IBN, certainly has a way with words and Broken News, which is all about life — and love gone sour — at a major television news channel, is peppered with many original lines. Here's one: " never see the spots when you're looking the damn leopard in the face...".

And here's her description of the Mayur Vihar locality in New Delhi:

A suburb that's captured the essence of the Indian middle class so deeply, so thoroughly, that it's turned grey. And it's not just the buildings: the dreams, the air, everything is thick with it. Oh, the dull self-effacement of it; the quiet overwhelming industriousness of it. No glamour here, that's for sure.

(I have been to Mayur Vihar a few times — Tripathi has got it down pat.)

I also loved the thought and effort that have gone into the WHAT WE LEARN "intertitles" between chapters (see below).

But will young people who liked, and still like, Sidney Sheldon and now rave about Chetan Bhagat "get" the very cerebral Amrita Tripathi?

(Don't get me wrong — there was a time when I used to read Sidney Sheldon, too, but that was in high school and the early college years. As for Chetan Bhagat, I admire him for having gotten so many young people reading; here's my RR post: "Chetan Bhagat on how to take your English to the next level".)
  • UPDATE (May 26, 2012): Soon you will not need to judge Broken News by this particular cover. Why? See Twitter conversation below:

  •  UPDATE (July 19, 2013): Broken News has indeed been re-issued with a new cover, as promised by Amrita Tripathi in her tweet to me (above). I purchased a copy at Landmark yesterday and it has now been placed in the Commits library.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The most insightful interview with Aamir Khan by the best interviewer in the country

It is only in Tehelka, India's foremost investigative magazine, that you get to read stories that no other publication prints.

And it is only in Tehelka that you get to read interviews and profiles that offer insights into their subjects like no other interview or profile does.

The Q&A with Aamir Khan by Shoma Chaudhury in the magazine's latest issue is a case in point. Chaudhury is a masterful interviewer and profile writer; in my opinion, the best in the country. Back in December 2009, Chaudhury gave us the the saga of a redoubtable Manipuri woman's epic fast for justice in her home state. In this fascinating and inspirational and touching story — "Irom And The Iron In India’s Soul" — she pulled out all stops to tell us why "Irom Sharmila's story should be part of universal folklore". Read it and weep.


And now, when Satyamev Jayate is the mantra on every Indian's lips, Chaudhury, the managing editor of Tehelka, gets us answers to all the questions we have — and also the questions we didn't know we have — about Aamir and his brilliant television show.

She begins with a basic query, then draws the superstar out with some penetrating and perceptive probing. Here is a sample:

After the idea struck you, did it take a long time for you to cave in to it? To decide to risk moving from cinema to TV.

What was the toughest part to crack about the show?

Television viewers are famously fickle. Was there any resistance from the channels to your desire to make the show one-and-a-half hours?

In terms of the breadth of research that the team did, how many personal stories did you actually get? Were there any that particularly touched you?

What made you stop all your advertising contracts for this year?

You bring a sort of purity of intent to your creative commitments. Then once it’s ready, you mount super canny marketing strategies on them. How did you work the marketing strategy for this?

Read the interview in its entirety, and get the answers to these questions and more, here: "We’ve been through so much raw emotion, our whole team feels we need some counselling".

Also read, on the same page, "The power of one", by Tehelka special corespondent Sunaina Kumar.

And check out Shoma Chaudhury's other stories for Tehelka here.
  • UPDATE (June 6, 2012): Aamir Khan, who now writes a weekly column for The Hindu, explains how he and his team came to choose "intolerance towards love" as the topic for the fifth episode of Satyamev Jayate: "More honour in love". You can watch this particular episode here: "Is love a crime?"
  • UPDATE (July 12, 2012): CNN-IBN deputy editor Sagarika Ghose, writing in the Hindustan Times, says Aamir Khan has reminded journalists of the tasks that lie before them. Read her thought-provoking column here: "Back to the basics".

Friday, May 18, 2012

"We are educating people out of their creativity"

I am mighty obliged to Commitscion Natasha Rego (Class of 2014) for introducing me to Ken Robinson's concept-shattering talks at TED.

In an e-mail she wrote to me yesterday — we had been discussing careers and the importance of being passionate about work — Natasha brought up Ken Robinson and told me that one of her favourite parts of the speech Sir Ken gave in February 2010 concerned his reference to people who love what they do. Here is what he said:

I meet all kinds of people who don't enjoy what they do. They simply go through their lives getting on with it. They get no great pleasure from what they do. They endure it rather than enjoy it and wait for the weekend. But I also meet people who love what they do and couldn't imagine doing anything else. If you said to them, "Don't do this anymore," they'd wonder what you were talking about. Because it isn't what they do, it's who they are.

Two years ago, I had published a post on this very subject: "If you love what you do, is it 'work'?". As you can imagine, I am thrilled to learn that a sentiment I have been expressing for years now is shared by a man considered by many to be one of the world's foremost experts on creativity.

Sir Ken is also of the view that the approach to educating children is all wrong. He argues we're educated to become good workers, rather than creative thinkers. Students with restless minds and bodies — far from being cultivated for their energy and curiosity — are ignored or even stigmatised, with terrible consequences. "We are educating people out of their creativity," Robinson says. (Check out his TED profile — there are more quotes as well as links to his talks.)

I have an issue with the education system, too, though my problem is more to do with the decline in standards of the English language used by youngsters. And I have given vent to my feelings in a post I published in October 2010: "What's the point of an education if you remain illiterate?"

Be that as it may, in the TED talk Natasha has referred to, Sir Ken makes many valid points — intelligently, wittily — about the urgent need to reform the education system. Watch him deliver his brilliant speech here: "Bring on the learning revolution!"

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

You used to be my type!

Back in the early '80s, when I first began my career as a journalist, computers were only a figment of an overactive imagination. We produced newspapers the old-fashioned way then, with typewriters, pens and pencils, rulers, and... typesetting machines.

I was reminded, when flipping through an old Outlook issue, of those now-ancient days (the bad ol' days I call them because I much prefer the new technology that made the production journalist's job so much easier).

So what did this typesetting machine look like? Here is a wonderfully evocative picture from that issue of Outlook by world-renowned photographer Pablo Bartholomew:

Bartholomew writes in the brief accompanying piece that, as a young lad, he used to visit various newspaper offices to drop off his father's copy Bartholomew Senior was an art critic and also a photographer. A newspaper office then, says Bartholomew, resembled a chaotic circus, involving huge manpower and activity. The write-up continues:

The building was divided into separate floors, the editorial offices high above abuzz with the clank of typewriters, the lead type being set down below, while further down would be the printing press with ink and grease all over the floor, bales of newsprint being unloaded, all with their peculiar smells and sounds. Waves of activity took place as the printed pages of the newspaper, bound for different editions and locations, were manually assembled, bundled into trucks to be driven all night, and to railway stations and airports, to meet our breakfast tea.

The Mid Day office of the early '80s in Tardeo, Mumbai, came instantly to mind when I read that paragraph. Except for the fact that Mid Day was an afternoon newspaper and the printed copies were rushed out to locations nearby and distant in the daytime, everything was as Bartholomew describes it.
  • You can take a look at the photograph again and also read the rest of Pablo Bartholomew's short write-up here: "Before the Pixels" (you will need to click through to get to Bartholomew's piece).
PS: In 1985, I quit Mid Day along with like-minded colleagues, led by the one and only Behram "Busybee" Contractor, to launch a rival paper called The Afternoon Despatch & Courier. ADC, as it used to be known, is still the newspaper closest to my heart.
  • Want to know more about how newspapers were produced in the pre-computer era? Check out this fascinating website: "Newspaper production".
  • And watch a trailer of Linotype: The Film here.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Nine fine reasons to read

In her 2008 bestselling memoir I Feel Bad about My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman, Nora Ephron (pictured left) offered a tantalising observation about one of the great joys of her life:

¶ Reading is one of the main things I do. ¶ Reading is everything. ¶ Reading makes me feel I've accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. ¶ Reading makes me smarter. ¶ Reading gives me something to talk about later on. ¶ Reading is the unbelievably healthy way my attention deficit disorder medicates itself. ¶ Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it's a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it's a way of making contact with someone else's imagination after a day that's all too real. ¶ Reading is grist. ¶ Reading is bliss.
Nora Ephron is best known for a screenwriting career that has included Silkwood (1983), When Harry Met Sally (1989), Sleepless in Seattle (1993), and You've Got Mail (1998). Ephron, who turns 71 this week, worked as a journalist for nearly a decade before publishing a 1975 book of essays (Crazy Salad) and then writing a 1983 novel (Heartburn) that was inspired by her marriage to journalist Carl Bernstein (of Watergate fame).
UPDATE (June 27, 2012): Nora Ephron, R.I.P. — (From today's New York Times) Nora Ephron, an essayist and humorist in the Dorothy Parker mold (only smarter and funnier, some said) who became one of her era’s most successful screenwriters and filmmakers, making romantic comedy hits like “Sleepless in Seattle” and “When Harry Met Sally,” died last night in Manhattan. She was 71. (Obit: Writer and Filmmaker With a Genius for Humor.)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

You won't believe how this popular comic strip artist gets his ideas

Stephan Pastis, the creator of the wildly successful Pearls Before Swine, says the process of humour writing is most akin to what they say about the sausage: It tastes great, but you probably don’t want to see how it’s made.

Pastis makes this claim in his introduction to This Little Piggy Stayed Home, a collection of Pearls strips that appeared in newspapers in 2002-03.

That introduction is proof, to me, that this comic strip artist is truly a funny man. Funny ha-ha, as well as funny peculiar. Read these excerpts and you will know what I mean:

The question I get the most from Pearls readers is, “Where do you get your ideas?” And the truth is I don’t know. What I do know is that most of the better ones seem to quite literally pop into my head, with most of the dialogue already written. A good example of this is one of the more popular daily strips, where Rat asks Pig, “If you could have a conversation with one person, living or dead, who would it be?” and Pig answers, “The living one.” I don’t think I spent more than a minute writing it. It was just there. The good ones always seem to be more “found” than “created”.

I also know that the ideas seem to come in bunches. If there’s one good idea, there’s usually a few more behind it…. It’s like all you have to do is keep the pen moving.

But the converse of this is also true. When there’s nothing there, there’s nothing there. I’ve had days where I’ve written for ten straight hours, not eating and not leaving my room, and I have not come up with a single idea. …

While the thought process remains more or less a mystery, I have learned that there are certain circumstances that seem to be more conducive to creativity than others. For me, the key is total isolation, loud music, and coffee. Every time I explain what I do to achieve this in interviews, I look unbelievably strange. But it’s the truth, and I am strange, so here goes.

First, I lock myself in a spare bedroom in our house. I remove the phone. I close the blinds. I even put a folding chair in front of the door, in case the lock doesn’t work. I also turn off the lights, leaving only the minimal amount of sunlight that comes in through the closed blinds to show me where the notepad is.

Second I turn on loud music. I have about a dozen compilation CDs that I’ve made, filled with what I think are great, soaring, more or less spiritual songs in which you can lose yourself. There tends to be a lot of U2, Peter Gabriel, Radiohead, Pink Floyd, and Counting Crows in the mix….

Third, I drink a lot of coffee…two large cups. For the first hour, I just drink the coffee and walk back and forth with my headphones on, head nodding up and down to the music, occasionally playing the air guitar, and air drums and dancing. As I’m usually wearing only my boxers, you now have a good visual of how strange this really is.

To make matters even stranger, I periodically go to my bookshelf and read the same sections of the same books over and over. They are: 1) the end of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby; 2) the beginning of Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; and 3) Ernest Hemingway’s short story “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”.

By the second hour of this, the ideas will usually start coming, and I’ll lie on my stomach on the floor and write them all down in a spiral notepad. I don’t draw at all. I only write. After about eight hours of this, I’ll usually have a week’s worth of strips written. Which means I can put on my pants and get dinner…hopefully in that order.

So now you know.

And then Pastis has the last word, or three. Enjoy your sausage, he tells us.

If you're a Pearls fan, you will agree that in Pastiss case we not only relish our sausage but also revel in seeing how it is made.
  • For more advice on cartooning from Stephan Pastis, visit the official Pearls Before Swine blog: Cartooning 101.
  • Photograph and comic strips © Stephan Pastis

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Is there anything more soothing — or more inspirational?

  • By Max Ehrmann
Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

¶ Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of  time. Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.


¶ Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

¶ You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

¶ With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann said he wrote Desiderata (Latin: "desired things", plural of desideratum), for himself "because it counsels those virtues I felt most in need of".

Ehrmann (pictured left), a Harvard-schooled philosopher and lawyer, wrote it in 1927 and copyrighted it that year. Largely unknown in the author's lifetime, the text became widely known, according to the entry in Wikipedia, after its use in a devotional, after subsequently being found at Adlai Stevenson's deathbed in 1965, and after spoken-word recordings in 1971 and 1972. 

More details are available on Wikipedia here.

Reading "Desiderata" can make your day, every day

By Commitscion Saumya Iyer
(Class of 2014)

I absolutely loved this piece!

For people like me, who wallow in perpetual self doubt, it’s something you know instinctively and take for granted; it's something somebody tells you every now and then but you pay no heed. However, reading it all at once certainly resonated with me as it finally struck me that I need to have more confidence in myself and in my abilities (even though I might dive back into my shell of self doubt from time to time).

I think it is a must to have a giant-sized print of "Desiderata" up on your wall so that the moment you wake up, the first thing you read is this. And, honestly, it would just make your day, like it did mine.

UPDATE (October 27, 2012): I received this message from American artist Sherrie Lovler today: "Desiderata is a wonderful piece to read daily, and the image you have posted here is my art and it is available for purchase, so you can have it hanging on your wall. For permission to use my artwork on your blog, I simply ask for a link to my site from the image. Thank you for spreading these great words by Max Ehrmann."

Thank you for alerting me to my lapse, Sherrie. I am more than happy to provide a link to your elegant artwork in the caption to the image (see above).

PR, Advertising, and Journalism go to a party...

Commitscion Samarpita Samaddar (Class of 2010)
Public Relations: At a party, you see a gorgeous girl. You get up and straighten your tie; you walk up to her, pour her a drink. You open the door for her, offer her a ride, and then say, "By the way, I'm rich. Will you marry me?"

Advertising: You're at a party with a bunch of friends and you see a gorgeous girl. One of your friends goes up to her, points at you, and says, "He's rich. Marry him."

Ramesh Prabhu
Journalism: As you join the party, you see PR and Advertising quarrelling over the prettiest girl there. You swing by, give her the look, throw her a line (or your byline you're a journalist, after all!). And she says, "Marry me."
  • An excerpt from a Facebook conversation of March 9, 2011.

What is YOUR definition of success?

Here's a little reminder that life is not about having the flashiest cellphone or the swankiest car:

¶ To laugh often and love much ¶ To win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children ¶ To earn the approbation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends ¶ To appreciate beauty ¶ To find the best in others ¶ To give of one's self ¶ To leave the world a little better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition ¶ To have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation ¶ To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived ¶ This is to have succeeded.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American essayist, lecturer, and poet, was seen as a champion of individualism and a critic of the countervailing pressures of society. He disseminated his thoughts through dozens of published essays and more than 1,500 public lectures across the United States.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

From industry newbie to full-fledged TV news correspondent: Follow the travails of the intrepid "Satyabhama Menon"


It was a privilege — and a great pleasure — to be invited to say a few words about a dynamic young author and her new book at the launch event in Bangalore on Wednesday.

Shweta Ganesh Kumar, who has been the Bangalore correspondent for CNN-IBN (she later joined Greenpeace India as a communications officer and is today a full-time writer and travel columnist), has two books to her credit already. Coming up on the Show... The Travails of a News Trainee, which was published last year, featured aspiring TV news reporter Satyabhama Menon and her life as a newbie in the industry. In Between the Headlines: The Travails of a News Reporter, the book that was released on Wednesday, we get to read about Satyabhama's experiences as a full-fledged news correspondent.

Both books are easy reads. And both books, since they are based loosely on the author's own career as a television journalist, have important insights
to offer youngsters who are aspiring to join one of India's many TV news channels.

I would
also recommend Coming up on the Show and Between the Headlines for three reasons: Language, Content, and Message.

Language: Good writers use simple language to express powerful ideas. Take Khushwant Singh. Or M.J. Akbar. Or even the current favourite of young adults, Suzanne Collins, the author of The Hunger Games trilogy. Shweta, too, keeps it simple: When you read her books, you won't need to keep a dictionary by your side.

Coming up on the Show and Between the Headlines will acquaint media students (as well as anyone with an interest in the news-gathering process) with the challenges faced by television journalists. Sure, both books are works of fiction but there are kernels of truth in the descriptions of the obstacles in Satyabhama's path as she struggles to present her news stories on her channel.

Message: There are many things you can learn from reading Coming up on the Show and Between the Headlines, and they are not all about journalism alone. The underlying message in the books is that it is important to take the initiative. And to stand up for what you believe is right. The books also seem to prove my favourite adage: If you love what you do, you get to do what you love.


Two days after Between the Headlines was released in Bangalore, Shweta headed to Pune for the launch event in that city. And this week she is off to Kochi to release the book there. But hectic schedule notwithstanding, like the good professional she is, she made time to answer in detail via e-mail five questions I had for her on subjects ranging from the audience she kept in mind while writing her books to the note of cynicism some readers may have picked up on in both Coming up on the Show and Between the Headlines:

1. What is the audience you had in mind when writing Coming up on the Show and Between the Headlines?
One of my favourite sayings about writing and reading is “Write the book you want to read.” And this is primarily what I had in mind when writing both Coming up on the Show and Between the Headlines.

As a fresh journalism graduate and newly recruited news trainee in 2006, I had always wondered whether there were others who had shared my experiences. I searched my favourite bookstores for books with fictional characters I could empathise with, but found none. All the fiction books that I found on Indian journalism were written by senior journalists who had written about major news events and campaigns. I did not find anything on the shelves that told the story of bright-eyed news trainees and rookie reporters and talked about what it is like to be on the bottom-most level of the news pyramid. These were the people I wanted to write about and write for.

Also, as a working TV news reporter, I had come across a lot of people who wanted to know just how the news was produced and what life behind the camera was like for a TV news reporter. These were the readers I had in mind when I started writing the books.

2. There is a notion that writing a book is not that difficult. But I would suggest that a lot of hard work is involved. Your thoughts? Can you also give us an idea of your writing schedule?
The biggest challenge about being a full-time writer is sticking with it to the end, in the absence of an external editor, boss, or deadline. Especially in the beginning when you have no idea that your manuscript might be picked up for publication at all it is easy to sit down and put your hands up.

Every writer has their own, personal approach to the writing process. My own style is built around discipline and being methodical. The hard part is to make sure that you buckle down every day and type out a certain amount of words to reach that ultimate goal of a completed manuscript.

It is also very easy to procrastinate or give up. In my case, it was that intense need to see my published book in my hand that kept me going as well as the full-fledged support from my family.

Whenever I start a book I decide on a certain number of words for the final manuscript. I then work backwards to decide on the number of words I have to write per day to finish the first draft of the manuscript by a certain date. I try to stick to my schedule no matter where I am. I also put down tentative chapter outlines and then fill them up as I go. After I finish the first draft of a novel, I let it lie for at least two months till I look at it again with fresh eyes.

3. How did you find a publisher? That couldn't have been easy, either. And how did you deal with rejections? I think aspiring writers will be looking to you for inspiration in this regard.
Rejection is a very hard obstacle to get past. But I’d say that it also depends on the way you use those rejection letters that you are most certainly going to get. (Well, most certainly if you decide to mail manuscripts off to publishers without the backing of an agent or a recommendation like I did.)

The first rejection was heart-breaking. I am quite sure that I went through the five stages of grief when I received that stinging little note. But I bounced back, thanks to my parents and my husband. I started filing away my rejection letters in a folder named “Motivation” and as soon as I got one, I would mail the manuscript to yet another publisher. I believe that, as a young, unknown writer, this is the only way you can handle rejection, without letting it defeat you.

My first publisher Srishti was the 22nd publisher I had sent my manuscript to, having found e-mail addresses and mailing addresses on the web. Good Times Books, the publisher of my second book, approached me for my manuscript after they saw how well the first book had done.

4. “If you want to be a good writer, you have to be a good reader.” This is what I tell all my students at Commits. Can you elaborate on the importance of reading in your life and the role of reading in your writing?
I’ve had the good fortune to grow up surrounded by books. My parents started reading to me at an age that I cannot even remember and that is what motivated me to start putting down my thoughts, no matter how silly or random they were.

My reading helped me stand in good stead in my career as a journalist. And today while I am a writer, I am a reader first. I don’t think it is possible for any writer to ignore reading if she or he wants to connect with others and to learn the many ways of expressing their thoughts in the best possible way.

5. And, finally, some readers may have concerns over what they feel is a note of cynicism in your books when it comes to the electronic media. How would you address those concerns? And what would you like to say to young people whose ambition is to be good television journalists?
To my readers who feel there is a note of cynicism in my books, I’d like to say that it surely wasn’t meant to be that way. Both the books were written with a very subjective and personal point of view. It does not necessarily reflect the current status of the Indian broadcast news industry.

Also, I am a very emotional person and as a working TV news journalist I used to get attached to the people whose stories I reported. I would want to make sure that I could take these issues to their logical conclusion. However, I soon found out that as a reporter it is not always possible to do so. I know many of my colleagues have faced this dilemma as well and it is this that I have tried to convey through my book’s protagonist, Satyabhama Menon.

To the young people who aspire to be TV news journalists, I’d like to say that you need to remember that you are a reporter first and your duty is to report stories and make sure that you in your limited way are able to amplify the voice of the people. However, you are a reporter and you need to understand that being objective is key and that to go far in your chosen profession, you need to find that fine balance between being an activist and an unbiased newsperson.
  • You can also read an interview with Shweta that was published in The Hindu here: Behind the Scenes.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Right to Education Act: Where do you stand on the debate?

Private schools in Karnataka do not want to implement the Right to Education Act this year, according to a news report (see below) in today's DNA.

Paucity of time to implement the act is not the only sore point; in fact, there is much heartburn over it, but why? Here, three columnists, two of them senior journalists, give us their insightful — and instructive — perspective.

Read the column by Aakar Patel in Mint to understand the importance of research when writing an opinion piece. Look how, with the aid of statistics (and examples from literature), he is able to convince us that "the children that this great law will produce will be different from us and they will be better". Read his column in its entirety here: "Transformation for the better".

Shoba Narayan, another popular Mint columnist, also has done her research. She has read "Parth Shah’s critique of the RTE Act in a blog; as well as newspaper commentaries by Abhijit Banerjee, Raghuram Rajan and Manish Sabharwal". And she has "asked teachers and school administrators about why this Act’s philosophical aspiration is so far removed from the practical realities they operate in".

Her column will appeal especially to parents because she says she is approaching this debate from the point of view of a parent and citizen. Her conclusion:

As a parent, I laud the intent. I am willing to help make it work. But as a student of psychology, I don’t think plonking underprivileged children in elite schools is the solution.

Read Shoba Narayan's column in its entirety here: "Philosophically distant from reality".

Also writing as a parent is NDTV editorial director and anchor Sonia Singh. Her opinion piece, published in Outlook, argues in favour of the RTE Act. If implemented properly, she writes, classrooms in which the RTE experiment is being carried out will shape India’s next social revolution. She insists that, since our children are India’s future, we should let them grow up in a country where equality begins in their classrooms.

You can read Sonia Singh's article in its entirety here: "Dirty Three-Letter Words".

Where do YOU stand on the RTE debate?
  • Illustration courtesy: Sorit/Outlook